Tag Archives: Vince Flynn

Fly a Little Higher: The story that keeps on giving

December 5, 2014

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Sobiech family

Sobiech family

I’ve been known to pitch a few books into the trash because they were rubbish. Many were forgotten as soon as I’d turned the last page. Some stories would hover over me for a while, but then drift away. Only a few have become my constant companions and Fly a Little Higher by Laura Sobiech is one such literary gem. It’s the story of hope; how God answered a mom’s small prayer in a big way.

As you might recall, Laura is the mother to Zach Sobiech, singer and songwriter of “Clouds.”  Zach wrote this song to say farewell to friends and family as he was suffering from terminal osteosarcoma. The iTunes and YouTube sensation hit the radio waves about this time two years ago, a few months before Zach succumbed to his bone cancer.

His mother’s lovely memoir profoundly changed my “mommy attitude” and taught me so much as it glided me through each chapter. It has helped me circumnavigate the difficult times I tend to encounter when a bulk of our nine kids is home for the summer. You see, for whatever reason June, July and August have been routinely challenging. We’ve dealt with my parents’ divorce, Aunt Angie’s brain surgery, Grandpa Dan’s aneurysm, the loss of dear friends, and nitpicking lice out of six little heads. The summer of 2013, one of our little twins suffered with Lyme disease. So, when we sailed into Memorial Day this year I started to get antsy and grouchy.

But then I picked up Laura’s book at the Stillwater bookstore and a better attitude took flight. Its message has stayed with me for over six months now, just like Zach’s legacy of hope has touched people from around the world. In her memoir, Laura beautifully writes:

“Through the eyes of Zach’s story, [people] were able to see things more clearly and gain perspective on their own lives. What seemed like a problem before hearing Zach’s story wasn’t such a big deal anymore.”

So very true.

Taking Flight

And now the family’s beautiful message of hope will reach the homes of many more. On December 2, Fly a Little Higher hit the shelves at Target as the Holiday, 2014, Club Pick. This edition offers exclusive bonus materials, including an in-depth Q&A with author Laura Sobiech and discussion questions for the reader. The Target website said that Fly a Little Higher is about how God used Zach to do something big.

I’m hoping Santa will do something big and stash bags full of this book into his sleigh before he jets out on Christmas Eve. Everyone on his list would benefit from Zach’s example of how to embrace the precious gift of life.

As Katie Couric stated:

“The fact that his mother, Laura, and entire family were able accompany him on his journey with such strength and courage (not to mention love and laughter) is a powerful lesson, not about dying, but about living.”

Laura told Dave Hrbacek of The Catholic Spirit:

“It’s a powerful thing to witness [death], especially, I think, in a child. I gave birth to that boy. I consider it to be such a privilege to see this child’s whole life, to be there when he entered [the world] and then to be there when he left.”

Hmmm…A vision of Jesus’ mother pops to mind–The Nativity and Pieta.

“We’ll go up in the clouds because the view is a little nicer”

On Thursday, December 11 at 6:30 p.m. at the Mall of America in Minnesota a giant choir will once again perform “Clouds” in conjunction with the annual KS95 for Kids Radiothon. This two-day event benefits the Children’s Cancer Research Fund and Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare. It has raised more than $13 million since it was started in 1999. Zach got his first big break during the radiothon two years ago when the studio first aired the song and played it in steady rotation during the whole event. Zach was interviewed live that same year. He told the DJ, “It’s not just about me, it’s about the kids who are lying in a hospital bed right now. Let’s work together to help them.”

The Sobeich family, of Lakeland, Minnesota, started the Zach Sobeich Osteosarcoma Research Fund, using proceeds from the sale of  the “Clouds” song. This fund has swelled to $9000,000 and has ignited four research projects to beat this type of cancer.

Last year, after the KS95 “Clouds” event,  Zach’s father, Rob Sobeich, was interviewed by The St. Paul Pioneer Press’ Mary Divine. He told her that the large crowd that arrived at the MOA for the tribute showed the kind of community we have in Minnesota. “Everybody came together, and it was for Zach, and it was for everyone in the room, and it was for other kids who have cancer,” he said.

Zach’s song and story are also for kids who have lost a parent to cancer. Shortly after the debut of “Clouds,” I was driving a car filled with children, listening to the radio. When Zach’s song played, I asked one of my passengers if the lyrics comforted her. Her daddy, author Vince Flynn, was dying from prostate cancer. She said that it did, so we turned up the dial and let the words soak in. Her dad passed away one month after Zach did, but she takes solace in the fact that Daddy is flying a little higher.

Cancer carried away Zach too soon, but his presence continues to soar; teaching us how to live life abundantly in God’s Grace. Thank you, Sobeich family, for the legacy of hope and joy. (And the “Mommy Attitude Adjustment.”)

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Author Vince Flynn left behind much more than his books

July 8, 2013

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Vince and Lysa Flynn

Vince and Lysa Flynn

Author’s note: This article was written for The Catholic Spirit.

In mourning the loss of a loved one, it’s tempting to just crawl under the covers and stay there. But those who are left behind need to trudge forward, and that’s what the family of Vince Flynn is doing right now. I believe he’s watching them with pride pumping his fists into the air and cheering in that big, bellowing voice of his.

The day after her 47-year-old husband was laid to rest, his wife Lysa was delivering bouquets to people who had helped their family during the past week — like the woman who had watched their dog when Vince was in the hospital.

Since their father’s death, Dane, 17 has continued to work at his summer custodial job at St. Thomas Academy. Some of his friends came and “kidnapped” him the other night and took him out for ice cream. His daughters Ingrid, 12, and Ana, 10, have been to dance practice and saw “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” at the Chanhassen Dinner Theatres. Of course, there are times when they crumple over in tears, but Lysa said that it’s the kindness of others and the grace of God that helps them with this new chapter of their lives.

Yep, Vinnie is proud.

 

His last chapter

In November of 2010, Vince was diagnosed with stage III metastatic prostate cancer. He passed away at 2 a.m. on June 19 surrounded by about 35 family members and friends. My husband and I were honored to be there. His wife had been a patient “Nurse Nightingale” by his side for the last two and a half years, and until he took his last breath. He fought tenaciously for survival, just like the CIA operatives do in the stories he created.

As a friend of Vinnie’s, it was hard to watch him losing this battle. This man who was bigger than life used to wrestle with gusto with our toddling twins. Eventually, those tussles became gentler and the therapeutic hormones Mr. Flynn was taking would make him drip with sweat. As the months went on, it became more painful for him to move, and he would just sit in the red chair by our fireplace and watch the twins play. And then, as of April, it was too difficult for him to get out of bed. He’d ask us to bring the identical pair to his home, where he’d enjoy passively watching them chase his dog around.

For the last four months or so of Vince’s life, someone needed to be with him at all times. His brother Tim and some friends took turns sitting with him and taking him to his myriad appointments. A barf bag was always at arm’s length.

 

‘Keep the faith’

Last week, outside the Cathedral of Saint Paul, Vince’s friends and admirers formed a line stretching for two blocks. Each one had a story about the author, and many were impressed by the depth of his faith. Steve Polski, who played football with Vince at the University of St. Thomas, said, “Vinnie was one of those rare guys who became more religious as he became famous. That doesn’t happen too often with celebrities.” Vince truly lived by his favorite motto: “Keep the faith.”

In his homily, Father Peter Laird, who also went to college with Vince, said that toward the end, there were always two things in Vinnie’s hands: his phone and his ring rosary. “One was used to communicate with people on Earth, and one was used to communicate with God in Heaven.”

Asked about Vince’s faith, Lysa said, “Prayer was his life boat. It helped him keep his head above the waves. It wasn’t just a thing he checked off his list; he prayed all day long.” She went on to say that when he was first diagnosed with cancer, his sister’s boss sent him a card with a prayer to St. Jude. “It stayed on our nightstand and he said it every day,” she added. Another item that remained nearby was a copy of the “Magnificat.”

As his friends, we often witnessed his Catholic devotion, but noted that it was limited by his Type-A personality. He became anxious if Masses ran too long. And during his illness, the Flynns often stood in the back of church, as we did. As sick as he was, Vince would try to help us chase around our toddling twins or just hold them in order to give us a break. That’s the kind of guy he was.

He demonstrated that faith was a priority by giving generously of his time and talent to the church and Catholic schools. He publically expressed this priority in 2012 when he wrote in the acknowledgments of “Kill Shot”:

 “To Ed Kocourek, my unofficial spiritual mentor. Thank you for pushing me when I needed it. The Adoration Chapel and St. Joseph’s has become a place of great beauty and serenity in my life. To Father John Malone, Father Peter Laird, and Archbishop Emeritus Harry Flynn for your prayers and guidance. I am a God-fearing soul and always have been. I choose to believe, and to all of you who have sent your prayers and well-wishes, thank you.”

 

His Legacy

Following a reception at the University of St. Thomas, Vince was laid to rest in Resurrection Cemetery.

Atria Books publicist, David Brown, sent this note: “It was such a beautiful service; sad but celebratory. The long line of people waiting to greet the family was reminiscent of one of Vince’s book signings which I thought was very fitting. It was a wonderful tribute for a great man who I was so lucky to have been able to work with and get to know for the past eight years. I love my job much less now that he is gone. He leaves a hole for everyone.”

His godchild, Owen Tracy, 16, is feeling the hole, too. “When it came time to pick a confirmation sponsor, the first name that came into my head was Vince. I was more than heartbroken when I lost him. He meant so much to me. I hope to be half the man he was. I loved him so much and always will,” he said.

Vince also meant a lot to John Steveken, a St. Thomas Academy classmate. He credits Vinnie with saving his life. After his own late diagnosis, Vince encouraged all of his loved ones to get tested for cancer. Thanks to his urging, Steveken’s prostate cancer was discovered early. He had surgery and is doing well.

Last Tuesday as Lysa was delivering the bouquets, she talked about all the cards and letters of condolence she had received. “Vince left us many books, but what I’m reading in these notes is that he gave us much more than just his stories; these letters are about him as a person, and how much he gave to people.” She smiled and then added, “That’s his legacy.”

 

(to view a blog about Vince Flynn and abortion click here–To read about Vince’s faith and death click here and hereSchneeman is the author of the blog, Embracing Life on CatholicHotdish.com. She and her husband Eric are the parents of nine children and are members of St. Joseph parish in West St. Paul.)

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Minnesota Catholic Writers

June 24, 2013

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"Writing" - Licensed under Creative Commons

“Writing” – Licensed under Creative Commons

 

As we mourn the loss of Vince Flynn, I started to reflect on a few of the Catholic writers we have in Minnesota. Whether it is fiction, nonfiction, historical or other genres; is there something about our faith and something about Minnesota that helps to feed this talent? Immediately I can think of a few Minnesota Catholic authors. F Scott Fitzgerald and  Ralph McInerny come to mind,  but others like  Timothy Drake, Elizabeth Kelly and my very own dear cousin Fr. Marvin O’Connell are those I know personally.  And then there are aspiring novelists like Kathy Schneeman who, along with raising her nine kids and wrote so eloquently of Vince Flynn’s passing in her blog, is also working on her first novel.  I know if I were to search, there are many more Minnesota Catholic authors. (If you have a favorite Minnesota Catholic author,  share who it is and why in the comments below.) Some followed their faith more closely than others, some are better or lesser known but they share two things, Minnesota heritage and the Catholic faith.

Is it the Minnesota long winters that turn us to storytelling? Is it hearty Irish or other ethnic back grounds that causes us to tell tales? Is it a rich heritage of folklore that causes us to think in terms of fantasy?  Is it a love of the outdoors that causes us to notice details in the changes of the seasons and the rhythm of the earth that bring forward observations and hone our writing skills?

 

Or is it the gift of our faith that feeds the talent?

 

In the introduction to The Catholic Imagination,  Fr. Andrew Greeley writes: “Catholics live in an enchanted world, a world of statues and holy water, stained glass and votive candles, saints and religious medals, rosary beads and holy pictures. But these Catholic paraphernalia are mere hints of a deeper and more pervasive religious sensibility which inclines Catholics to see the Holy lurking in creation.”

I wonder often about that, about how Catholics see the world. We believe that there is something more than what we see and in a deep prayer and meditative life God uses our imagination to draw us closer to him. Try saying the Rosary, it becomes and exercise in imagining the life of Christ while repeating the prayers we know by heart and it somehow brings us closer to Christ.

 

There is always something happening beyond what we see. 

 

Fr. Robert Barron uses this sacramental sensibility in many of his talks, books and through the use of the Catholocism series.  It takes our imagination to even enter into thinking about how our sacraments work. I once asked my spiritual director about a certain experience I felt in prayer,  I asked if it was just my imagination. Her response caused me to reflect even deeper, saying “Don’t you think God uses everything to draw you closer to Him, even our imagination.” It is true, God made us the way we are and we are creatures uniquely made to worship Him.

It might not then be unusual that Catholics may have a jump start on imagination, storytelling and the world that can’t be seen.

On a couple of occasions I joined a group of Catholic writers. The group called itself The Minnklings — a Minnesotan take-off on C.S. Lewis’ and J.R.R. Tolkien’s writer’s group The Inklings. The group would meet at O’Gara’s bar in St. Paul to share work and offer encouragement. Tim Drake, then Senior Writer of the National Catholic Register led the group. I think it was a special place to explore the unique way in which Catholics aproach the world and aproach writing.   I don’t believe the group has met in recent years but I have been running into aspiring Catholic writers and I am hoping we can revive the concept again.

If you are a Catholic Writer, whether you are writing overtly on Catholic themes or if your faith guides your writing in less overt ways, contact me and maybe we can get revival of the Minnklings started.

 

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Vince, you will be missed

June 23, 2013

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“My sickness, or perplexity, or sorrow may be necessary causes of some great end, which is quite beyond us.”-JH Newman (Taken from Vince Flynn’s funeral prayer card which will be shaped like a bookmark)

The past few days have been hard for everyone who knew novelist Vince Flynn–and even for those who didn’t. As his loved-ones go on automatic pilot getting ready for the funeral here are some observations and memories that pop up; helping to subside the pain.

Misty water-colored memories

When Vince was diagnosed with stage III metastatic prostate cancer in November of 2010 he immediately gave up eating red meat and cut down on sugars. Even though it must have been tough for a former college football player to do so, he never complained about this sacrifice. He was hoping to prolong his life as much as he could for his family. To aid in this endeavor his wife Lysa put her Minnesota farm girl background to work by creating a large organic garden in their back yard. Vince was very proud of Lysa’s green thumb and beamed when she’d tote a basket of her “garden goodies” to friends’ houses.

The first time he met Lysa’s family in northern Minnesota Vince was so nervous that he got sick with anxiety. They’d laugh telling the story of how during that visit he spent more time inside the farmhouse’s bathroom than he did outside of it.

Vinnie liked Lysa’s turkey Tater Tot Hotdish, Leslie’s grilled veggies and any scrumptious pies that their friend, Lauri Schneider, pulled out of her oven (but he only savored a few bites of her sweets once he was diagnosed). Cabernet was his favorite wine, and while he was living with cancer he’d enjoy a vodka-Pom “because pomegranate juice has antioxidants.” He’d watch Saturday Night Live, Modern Family and Downton Abbey. The Black Keys, Kid Rock and Eric Church were some of the artists on his playlist. Often he’d be spotted wearing plaid shirts or athletic gear from his alma maters (St. Thomas Academy ’84 and University of St. Thomas ’88).

He loved watching his son Dane (17) wrestle, play football, basketball and run track. He roasted in the stands at his girls’ (aged 10 and 12) swim meets and actually enjoyed their dance recitals, although he’d grumble about them. He was fiercely proud of his brother, Tim, who is the commander of the St. Paul S.W.A.T. team. He’d email links to articles about his baby brother and brag about him to friends.

Speaking of friends, one of my favorite stories of the 47-year-old-novelist is this: Not long after college, a buddy of Vince’s and his wife had a baby that was delivered stillborn. The auntie told me, “We were all so touched to see the friends–including Vinnie– take time from their busy schedules and come to the little one’s funeral.” I think this speaks volumes about the respect for life that these young men had.

Vince always put his friends first. Years ago, the novelist with dyslexia was traveling with his publicist from Atria Books, David Brown. When Vince got to his hotel room he discovered that it was very small. (Usually he’d have a luxury suite assigned to him.) When Brown joined Vince later that day he exclaimed with excitement, “You should see my room, it’s huge!” Vince knew right away that the staff had mixed up the rooms, but he didn’t make Brown switch with him. When I mentioned this hotel story to his publicist Brown told me this: “Vince was very special to me. He was a rare crossover of someone who I worked with but considered a friend. In fact, I’ve been telling that same hotel story over the past 24 hours. I tell people that Vince let me stay in that room 90% because he was that kind and generous and 10% because he loved having something to needle me about for years to come!”

Besides having a fun sense of humor, the left-handed author had the uncanny ability to follow two conversations at once. If his wife and I tried to have a private talk he’d hear every word–even if we were whispering–and he’d always pitch in his two-cents-worth whether we wanted it or not. About five weeks ago,Vince–who was nearly bed-ridden–had called my husband Eric and me to see if we’d bring our four-year-old twins over to his house so that he could watch Thing 1 and Thing 2 play with his dog. (Actually, they were shooting his dog with their play guns.) We were so eager to visit with him, but when we got there the home healthcare nurse had to call an ambulance because his heart was acting up. As the rescue crew worked on him my husband gathered Vinnie’s things in a hospital bag. During this time the twins and I were on the back porch that is two rooms away. The little boys were chasing the family pet and I accidentally called the dog Dane (his son’s name). When I re-entered the room in which Vince reclined he asked weakly, “Kathy, did you just call my dog Dane?” That’s when it hit me: even though his body was crumbling before us and his ability to read, write and concentrate was waning, he still had that darn gift of super-hearing. The 35 friends and family members who were around his bed on June 19 are hoping that his ears were still working well in the end as we prayed, said our thank yous, and called: “We love you, Vinnie. Goodbye.”

I’ll never forget how hard it was to explain to the twins where their friend had gone. With their limited speech they asked, “He go where good guys go?” We told Thing 1 and Thing 2 that yes, we believed he was in heaven. Since “Mifi” (twin-talk for Mr. Flynn) and Lysa always gave them chocolate milk at their home their next question was: “He hab chocat mewk dere?”

I like to think that he is with his friend Dr. Mike Nanne who passed away from a brain tumor last year. It’s a comforting thought. Maybe they’re both drinking chocolate milk (or something stronger) with the saints at an Irish pub in Heaven.

 Support

For the last four months or so of Vince’s life someone needed to be with him at all times. His brother Tim, childhood friend Tom Tracy and my husband took turns sitting with him and taking him to his myriad appointments and infusions. A barf bag was always at arm’s reach. Glenn Caruso, University of St. Thomas’ football coach who was voted Division lll National Coach of the Year for 2012, lost his mother at  age eight and his father six years ago. He spent time with Vinnie one day this spring so that Lysa could plant her garden. Coach Caruso has supported Vince’s son, Dane, through many conversations and pep talks. In the fall of 2014 Dane is hoping to be on his UST powerhouse team.

Lysa’s sister has been by her side continuously for the last week, and family friends, the Aslesons, have been doing dishes, watering flowers and taking care of Vince’s kids. Amelia Santaniello (a news anchor with WCCO) took his daughters shopping to buy them dresses for their daddy’s funeral. And someone bought Lysa some nylons so she wouldn’t have to.

For the past many years every Thursday was date night for the Flynns. Often, Vince and Lysa would dine at Axel’s in Mendota. When Vinnie started to get too weak, Susie Fick and Valerie Tracy would take Vince’s place in order to get Lysa out. Being the round-the-clock caretaker for her husband, Lysa needed the break.

Come to think of it, Valerie’s husband, Tom Tracy, is probably home writing Vince’s eulogy as I jot down these thoughts. We’ve been praying for him. I’m sure he’s traveling along an emotional journey in doing so.

Signs of Hope

moose sign

Vince’s children were able to visit with their dad on Father’s Day while he was in United Hospital in St. Paul. This was the last day he was able to communicate. They are so thankful for this gift. In fact, he even asked them to grab him something to eat from Cossetta’s. He seemed to be better than he had been doing lately, but then he took a turn for the worse early the next morning. He passed away two days later. Fr. Peter Laird sat on the St. Thomas Academy board with the author and they attended the University of St. Thomas at the same time. During Father’s Day weekend Father Laird sent his friend a text that said, “Everything to Jesus.” Vince replied with the last lines he was to write to the priest: “Amen!”

Ed Kocourek, Vince’s prayer mentor, gave the author one of those decade rosaries that fits on a finger like a ring. Being a Knight of Malta with a mission of helping the sick, Ed had this rosary blessed at the Our Lady of Lourdes Shrine in France. Vinnie kept it with him throughout his illness. He even brought it with him when he was encapsulated in the MRI scanners. When Vince passed away, on his finger was this rosary adjacent to his wedding band. After we saw him take his last breath, Lysa gave the rosary to Dane.

The next day Nativity of our Lord Church in St. Paul was filled with friends of Vinnie’s who wanted to celebrate his life. The Mass was said by Fr. John Malone of the University of St. Thomas and was planned by Dan and Patty McQuillan. (Vinnie used to bartend for them at their bar and grill, Plum’s, when he was a struggling author.) Those in the pews had been saying a novena for their friend, and the Mass was originally planned to ask for healing. But God had called Vince home. On Monday people will once again fill a church for Vince–the Cathedral of St. Paul this time–for his funeral.

Yesterday I noticed that Lysa’s peaceful smile had returned. There’s still a bit of sadness behind it, but I can see the worry has disappeared from her eyes. She’s relieved her husband isn’t suffering anymore. I’m so proud of the perseverance and strength that she exuded over the past two and a half years. I know Vince will want her and their children to “Keep the faith” (his favorite saying).

The other day, Dane was playing video games with his uncle David Juran when I stopped by to pick up his little sisters for my daughter’s birthday party. He gave me a smile and I got to see Vince’s daughters smile, too, as we watched Joseph at the Chanhassen Dinner Theater. They say that kids are so resilient (Thank God!), and I witnessed another ray of hope when the girls sang along with the country music station all the way home. As we drove along Highway 13 the sign in front of Moose Country read: “Vince, you will be missed.” Vinnie’s daughters were touched and asked me to stop and take a picture. One of my girls said, “Geez, your dad must have been kinda famous.”

(For other stories about Vince Flynn click here and here.)

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Our friend, Vinnie

June 19, 2013

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Vince and Lysa Flynn in Cabo

Vince and Lysa Flynn in Cabo

Vince Flynn was calling his next book The Survivor. He got the idea for this title while on a trip to Cabo in February. A friend, Roberto, made him a cake (with the aid of his minions) that looked like a book. “Survivor Man” was written along the bottom on edible paper. He took a look at that dessert and said, “Wow, that would be a great title for my novel!” That vacation was the last time Vinnie felt well enough to walk around much. In fact, he even made it to a beach located a few resorts away to watch his girls swimming like mermaids in the Sea of Cortez. But even though his strength began to diminish, the act of surviving remained paramount on the novelist’s mind until the final chapter of his life.

In November of 2010 Vince was diagnosed with stage III metastatic prostate cancer. He passed away at 2:00 AM on June 19 surrounded by about 35 family members and friends. My husband and I were honored to be there. His wife had been a patient Nurse Nightingale by his side for the last two and a half years, and of course she was there when he took his last breath, too. He fought to live,  just like the CIA operatives did in the stories he created. He was brave and courageous,  just  like the characters were within his fictional pieces.

The past two years his close buddy, Tom Tracy, organized a “Movember” team called “Mitch Rapp and the Killer Mustaches.” Their efforts–which included growing facial hair–raised $80,000 for prostate cancer awareness and cure. We all wish a cure would have come soon enough for our friend, Vinnie.

He is in a better place now; in a Heavenly Paradise–not the palm tree and sand type of paradise like his favorite spot in Mexico, but the place we all strive to go to when it is our time: our eternal home. But we wish his health would have improved and that he would have been a “Survivor Man.” We wish he could have finished that last novel, and many other Mitch Rapp stories.

Some memories

My husband, Eric, and I have known the Flynns for years. I used to work with Vinnie’s wife, Lysa, in the fashion industry during our younger days. Eric went to high school with the future author at St. Thomas Academy, where, for the last few years, Vince sat on the board. I didn’t go to high school with Vinnie (It’s all-male), but I did meet him for the first time when one of his friends, Nick Flood, asked me to their military ball. A few years later, we were students together at St. Thomas College in St. Paul, Minnesota (now the University of St. Thomas). One of my favorite memories of Vince occurred when I’d spot him in Murray Hall wearing his football jacket. An entourage surrounded him–always. Especially a harem of co-eds fluttering their eyelids. But because he was such a people-person, Vince always had time for the other folks walking by, too. “Hi, Steveken,” and “How are you, McFadden?” or “Hello Fr. Malone” could be heard between classes. His magnetic personality was one trait that made him successful, I’m sure.

Mary Ann Grossmann, book critic for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, once told me that when Vince Flynn first became famous, women flocked to his book signings because this new author was eye candy. But this attention never went to his head, and thankfully, God blessed him with brains to go with that brawn, too. I recently told him: “Vinnie, I have a confession. I was a Doubting Thomas. Eric and I used to go to O’Gara’s and see you tending bar and I’d say, ‘Whatever happened to Vinnie? He was such a smart guy. He had a great job after college–which he quit–and now he’s pouring drinks and supposedly writing a book.’ ” (Of course when I said writing a book I made quotation marks with my fingers in ridicule.) Vince laughed so hard when I admitted this lapse of faith in him. “You weren’t the only one, Kathy. Others have told me the same thing.” But I was frustrated with myself for doubting his abilities, especially since my mom–who is a writer–was always pulling for him. When he self-published his first novel Term Limits in 1997,  my mother (who knew Vince through the O’Gara family) was so proud of him for following his dreams and being triumphant. And now– “dontcha know”–he has 14 novels on the New York Times Best Seller List.

She didn’t, but my mom could have said to me, “See, I told you so.”

And eventually, over wine with our spouses in his cigar room, I told him, “I’m so proud of you Vinnie. Not only for being a successful writer, but for being a successful husband and father, too.” I’m so glad, now, that I told him that.

Growing up in a big family

Another reason for the novelist’s success was that he grew up in a creative family that liked to tell stories. Knowing that I dabble in writing he once told me: “Kathy, you’re so lucky to have a big, extended family. I’ve sat and listened to your McMahon uncles, and nobody can spin a tale like they can. That’s a gift that they gave you. I wouldn’t be where I am today if my family hadn’t shared their narratives.”

There were seven kids in the Flynn household. Their father, Terry, was a teacher and coach at St. Thomas Academy when the snappers were young. Their mother, Kathleen, has always been an incredible artist of wildlife–especially of water fowl, earning her the nickname, “Grandma Duck.” (She was named Ducks Unlimited Artist of the Year in the past.) Vince liked to discuss his family’s gift of Irish gab, saying that they would often discuss politics, current events and history–fueling little Vinnie’s interest in these topics. Quite often their dinner-time storytelling would get rambunctious, with fistfights and tears.Vince would refer to their childhood squabbles as “The Fightin’ Irish episodes.” His longtime buddy, Brian Kruse, (who helped sell Vince’s first book out of the trunk of his car) said that Vince was excellent at debating. “He honed in on this craft because he’d had lots of practice collecting facts to present to his family during their opposing arguments.” This is definitely a gift which he was able to carry into his writing, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, too. Vince was always stubborn, and he loved to be right.

A family man

Before Vince Flynn became a household name, he married a small-town girl from northern Minnesota. (They were introduced by news anchors Frank Vascillaro and Amelia Santaniello.) I love what the author wrote about his “Honey” (as he called her) in the acknowledgments of The Last Man:

“To my darling wife, Lysa, who has always been wise beyond her years, thank you for giving me some of that wisdom when I really needed it. Now if I could just get some of that grace from you, I’d really have things moving in the right direction. You are my favorite thing about life.”

When that book came out, I told Vinnie that he’d better be careful, because what he wrote about his wife was so beautiful that the publishers were going to start listing his thrillers as romance novels.

During one of our dinners together, Vinnie told Eric and me, “Whenever I’m on the road and I think women are getting a little flirty with me, I just flash my wedding band.” He had no tolerance for infidelity and treasured his beautiful marriage. In all the years I knew him he only had lovely things to say about his wife.

Every Thursday was date night; usually at their favorite restaurant in Mendota for a Bloody Mary and crab cakes. Everyone knew them there, they were like Norm in Cheers.

The Flynns have three children between the ages of 10 and 17. Our old friendship was re-ignited when our kids started doing things together after they moved from a Minneapolis suburb to “the better side of the river.” (For those of you who don’t know, the Twin Cities have a playful rivalry.) Our families and other friends have enjoyed many great times together, including storytelling of our own, in a pub that was built in our basement. During grace we would often recite an Irish saying for Vince: “May you live to be old and gray and comb the hair of your children’s children.” How we wish this would have come to fruition.

 Man of faith

A friend of the Flynns, Fr. Peter Laird (who went to college with Vince), said that there were always two things in Vinnie’s hands: his phone and his ring rosary. Father added, “One was used to communicate with people on Earth, and one was used to communicate with God in Heaven.” He then stated that a copy of the Magnificat prayer book was always near his side.

The Flynns are members of St. Joseph’s in West St. Paul. Vince was a fixture in the pews quite often for the all-school Masses on Fridays. He’d sit right in between his girls. Often, he’d discuss with family and friends what he heard in Fr. Creagan’s great homilies or those delivered by other priests.

Vince loved his Catholic faith, even though he was a Type-A and got anxious if Masses ran too long. After he was diagnosed, his family often stood in the back of church with our big clan. Often, he would help us chase around our toddling twins or just hold them in order to give us a break. That’s the kind of guy he was.

He and Lysa give generously to the church and Catholic schools. He wrote this in the acknowledgments of Kill Shot:

“To Ed Kocourek, my unofficial spiritual mentor. Thank you for pushing me when I needed it. The Adoration Chapel and St. Joseph’s has become a place of great beauty and serenity in my life. To Father John Malone, Father Peter Laird, and Archbishop Emeritus Harry Flynn for your prayers and guidance. I am a God-fearing soul and always have been. I choose to believe, and to all of you who have sent your prayers and well-wishes, thank you.”

Vince and his wife are very pro-life. In fact, recently he donated a dinner with himself and former NFL player, Matt Birk, for the Wakota Lifecare Center. In one of his books he bravely condemns partial-birth abortion. (See the blog) He debated this issue well in a secular context, trying to enlighten readers to the importance of respecting the unborn.

We once heard him tell someone, “If you just stepped foot into a Catholic church you wouldn’t have so much anxiety.” Because Vince embraced his faith, he didn’t have any fear about dying. But as Father Laird said at Vince’s deathbed, “He just didn’t want to go so soon.”

I will close this article with Vinnie’s favorite saying: “Keep the faith!”

We miss you already, Vinnie. Thank you for the gift of your friendship, laughter and stories.

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Vince Flynn is embracing life

November 5, 2012

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Last month I finally read Pursuit of Honor which was written in 2009 by local author, Vince Flynn. I have now finished all 13 of his national bestsellers. I was thrilled to see that in chapter 50 of this particular novel the leading character, Mitch Rapp, denounces the vilest type of abortion procedure. Let me explain without giving too much away in case you haven’t read it yet…

In this chapter, Rapp–a CIA opperative–is before the Judiciary Committee. A certain female senator has it in for him because he uses extreme measures when he questions terrorists. (He is America’s assassin after all!) His morals, ethics and motives were being called into question. The fact that he and his partners have put their own lives at risk to save countless citizens of The United States does not impress this senator. Rapp explains that they have served their country with distinction, but she continues to build her indictment of them and calls Rapp’s actions immoral.

My favorite part in the book

The senator says, “I hardly think it’s a stretch to condemn torture as an immoral act.”

Rapp counters her with: “What about partial-birth abortion?”

And then further down the page Rapp adds:

“What do you think is more morally reprehensible…dislocating the arm of a terrorist who has intentionally lied on his immigration application so he can become an American citizen and help kill innocent people, or sticking a steel spike into the brain of an eight-and-a-half-month-old fetus and then sucking his brains out.”

Rapp confronts the senator:

“You  have a one hundred percent voting record when it comes to a woman’s reproductive rights. On thirty-eight separate occasions you have voted to protect or expand partial-birth abortions as well as provide federal funding for clinics that perform the procedure.”

The senator continues to think of him as a barbarian, so he reiterates:

“How about sticking a spike through the top of a baby’s head, piercing the skull, and then sucking the baby’s brains out all because the mother gets a note from two doctors who claims she has depression, or some other mental issue that precludes her from giving birth to a full-term baby?”

When the senator tells him that the two issues are completely different, Rapp states:

“This is where we not only say it’s perfectly okay for a doctor to kill a full-term baby, but we think taxpayers should help pay for it. And you call me a barbarian.”

When discussing this book, Vince Flynn fan, Cecelia MacDonald, said, “I was so glad to see someone finally compare partial-birth abortion to torture.”

But…

Vince’s wife, Lysa, told me, “Many people were upset that he admonished this type of abortion, and they swore they’d never buy his books again.”

The author who has Dyslexia put an arm around his wife and interjected, “But each year when my new novels are released, I sell a greater number of them than I did the year before.”

The Last Man is available in “Movember”

Vince Flynn’s 14th political thriller called The Last Man hits the bookshelves on November 13. I was honored to read an advanced copy, and it truly is a page-turner. It does not discuss the topic of abortion, but it does contain a character named Schneeman who is named after my husband who attended St. Thomas Academy with the author.

Vince was diagnosed with prostate cancer two years ago this month and he is responding well to treatment. He is thankful to fellow STA classmate, Tom Tracy, for starting the Mitch Rapp and the Killer Moustaches for “Movember” and raising a good amount of money for prostate cancer.

His faith

In his last book titled Kill Shot, Vince–who is a University of St. Thomas graduate–has a beautiful paragraph in his acknowledgments:

“To Ed Kocourek, my unofficial spiritual mentor. Thank you for pushing me when I needed it. The Adoration Chapel at St. Joseph’s has become a place of great beauty and serenity in my life. To Father John Malone, Father Peter Laird, and Archbishop Emeritus Harry Flynn for your prayers and guidance. I am a God-fearing soul and always have been. I choose to believe, and to all of you have sent your prayers and well wishes, thank you.”

Not only is Vince a talented author, he is also a loving husband and father, a wonderful friend, and just a great man in general. He is the type of Catholic who is always thirsting to learn more about his faith, keeps a rosary handy, and faithfully reads the Magnificat. He defends Catholicism when called to do so–and very eloquently I might add. (He is a wordsmith, after all.)

The author told my husband and me, “Each night I get down on my knees and thank God for life.”

(Click here to visit Vince Flynn’s website.)

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